The first Inman Connect was held 20 years ago, a weird collection of 50 industry outsiders, academics, media folks, real estate mavericks and a few establishment figures. We sat outside in a clearing of redwood trees in Northern California and tried to map out what technology and the Internet might do to residential real estate.

Wrapped in blankets with hand warmers, we roasted a pig, told fireside stories, drank and laughed. We were starry-eyed, hopeful and giddy that technology could shake up the real estate experience. We had an open and fierce dialogue about changes ahead.

This week in New York City, Inman Connect will host 3,500 people from around the world, who will gather in Times Square. We will again have an unconstrained discussion of changes facing the industry, trying to figure out what is next.

A bigger tent

Today, the real estate industry tent is much bigger. It is no longer controlled just by brokers, franchises and agents. Companies like Zillow and realtor.com have captured the imagination of the consumer with new tools and services. An equal number of people will attend Connect from Zillow as they will from the Realogy crowd. We have a magical mix of entrepreneurs, technologists, brokers, super agents and corporate types — the new industry.

In the woods of Sonoma, we were harping about the need to put home listings on the Internet. At the time, fewer than 2 percent were online. We got a demonstration of a 360 degree camera that was almost as large as a Mini Cooper.

Back then, we discussed who might be displaced by technology. Stanford professor Ward Hansen introduced the term “disintermediation.” Today’s word is “disruption.”

Automated transactions — the future?

We also pushed the importance of automating the transaction. I sometimes feel like nothing, except digital signatures, has moved that ball up the steep hill of change.

Over the years, I have called this vision: “the digital transaction,” “the latte vision” and, more recently, “closing in a box.” Forever the optimist, this is the year, thanks to blockchain technology and TRID, I think we might finally see instant closings.

The radical but simple idea behind blockchain will change everything. Buyers, sellers, owners, agents and properties will be authenticated and verified. Then, the transaction will be ready to go before it even begins. Imagine entire home deals done in days and closing in seconds. Predictive home search analytics, on-demand and virtual showings, instant offers and smart online lawyerless contracts will accelerate this trend. Safe, easy and quick.

We are also seeing a raft of new business schemes that tweak the traditional broker model, some offering full-service and others bringing fresh sophistication to the process of do it yourself home sellers.

Consolidation is underway

Facing disruption, industry consolidation is underway. Challenged by the possibilities of a national or regional MLSs, the fragmented MLS industry is scampering to merge and join hands.

Brokers are merging at the highest rate in 30 years, mergers and acquisitions guru Steve Murray told me. “There is strength in share in this environment,” he said.

Agents are also consolidating. Teams are a trend in which the strong deploy the weaker agents or leave them behind altogether.

Zillow is also expediting agent consolidation with its super agent program. Those who do not deploy its systems, or others like it, could be left alone in the desert of real estate failure.

Brokers who depend on the worst agents will also suffer as consumers become increasingly aware of who are the best agents through ratings, rankings and the release of agent production data.

Imagine a day when franchises aren’t bragging about who has the most agents but who has the best agents.

Either adapt or be disrupted

Many smart agents and savvy brokers are experimenting with all of these new technologies and will thrive in this tsunami of change. My message at the opening of Connect on Wednesday is simple: You either adopt disruptive technology or you will be disrupted.

You can see us live in New York City on January 26 through 29 or watch us on your device on the Select Live Stream. If you come to the Big City, introduce yourself. We will not be in the woods, but I promise Connect will be thoughtful, uncomfortable at times, but fun. Tiny or huge, the Inman Community has always been amazing.

Kabooom?

Email Brad Inman.